Scientists Say Newly-Discovered 'Super Earth' Could Be Hosting Alien Life

The new study also found that K2-18b has a neighbour which has been named K2-18c. The data used by the researchers came from the ESO's 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile

In an unexpected surprise, while researching the behavior of K2-18b, astronomers noticed something that they thought might have been signal noise but eventually determined was an entirely new planet orbiting K2-18 much closer than K2-18b does. As it was found to be located in K2-18's habitable zone, that led scientists to believe that the planet has liquid water on its surface, which is one of the essential conditions for life that we have today.

To determine whether K2-18b was a scaled-down version of Neptune, composed largely of gas, or a scaled-up version of Earth, made up mostly of rock, researchers first had to find out the mass of the planet, making use of the radial velocity measurements data gathered by HARPS. While learning about the potential super-Earth exoplanet - super-Earth meaning it has a mass similar to Earth - scientists discovered that there could be another exoplanet orbiting its same parent star. The K2-18b orbits a star called K2-18 at around 111 light-years away from our planet Earth.

An worldwide team of astronomers has found that a little-known exoplanet called K2-18b could be a scaled-up version of Earth, and also discovered the planet has a massive neighbor, K2-18c.

If that weren't exciting enough the team then realised that their newly discovered super-Earth wasn't alone and in fact had a neighbour.

Using data collected by the European Southern Observatory, researchers from Canada's University of Toronto and Université de Montréal were studying the mass and density of the little-known planet K2-18b, which was discovered back in 2015.

The dataset used by Cloutier and other researchers came from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) using the ESO's 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory, in Chile.

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Just last month, space boffins said they had found another "Super Earth".

"If you can get the mass and radius, you can measure the bulk density of the planet and that can tell you what the bulk of the planet is made of", says Cloutier.

It was while looking through the data of K2-18b that Cloutier noticed something unusual.

"With the current data, we can't distinguish between those two possibilities", Cloutier added.

"Once all the boxes were checked it sunk in that, wow, this actually is a planet", he said.

The next step, according to Cloutier, will be to probe the atmosphere for the presence of water with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope, the NASA/ESA/CSA telescope expected to be completed and launched in two years' time. As per the researchers, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will play a significant role in finding out further information about this super-Earth. "But whether or not there is surface water, we're going to have to do some follow up observations to figure that out for sure, because right now we just don't know".

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